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Stagnation in Construction Activities during the Early Roman Imperial Period in Eastern Rough Cilicia (Olba Region) and Isodomic Towers: Uprisings in Rough Cilicia/Isauria
Deniz Kaplan
The best-preserved monuments and remains of ancient Cilicia are found in eastern Rough Cilicia, also known as the Olba Region, which extends between the rivers Kalykadnos (Göksu) and Lamos (Limonlu). This region has attracted much scholarly interest and is currently under intensive study. A group of five towers in this region has attracted our notice. These five towers have isodomic masonry, which is contrary to the more conventional towers of the region with polygonal masonry. However, the most noteworthy point about these towers is the date proposed for their construction - the period from the regulations introduced by Pompey in 65 B.C. to the establishment of Provincia Cilicia in A.D. 72 by Vespasian. This dating is quite interesting because it points to security issues even after piracy was eradicated by Pompey in the region. As known, the imperial region encompassing eastern Rough Cilicia came into the Pax Romana with the reign of Augustus. Thus it is worth investigating why such towers were built. There is one more reason for this investigation. During the century starting with the reign of Augustus very few construction activities are observed in the major cities of eastern Rough Cilicia such as Korykos, Elaiussa Sebaste, Diokaisareia, Olba and Seleukeia. However, it is known that the Roman Empire witnessed rich construction activities during the early imperial period. The present article aims to investigate the reasons underlying the scarcity of construction in eastern Rough Cilicia during the concerned period in comparison to other regions of the Empire. Actually, it is aimed at clarifying any connection between the stagnation in construction activities and the towers exhibiting isodomic masonry.

The situation in the cities of eastern Rough Cilicia does not conform to the spirit of the period when rich construction activities were underway in order to supply the demand for public functions across the Roman Empire. Certainly the Archelaids undertook important steps with regards to urbanization and the imperial cult. However, the developments in construction activities and supplying public demand were not at a level comparable with those in other regions. Thus, we can speak of stagnation in construction activities throughout the region. However, the underlying reasons should be sought not in Archelaid rule but rather in the political-economic developments in the region.

During the Archelaid period Rough Cilicia witnessed uprisings. These client kings introduced many innovations both to reinforce their power over the region and to realise the imperial policies. The most important of these was the effort to tax the inhabitants using the census system as per the Roman model. These royal efforts were rejected by the locals who were still more nomadic than sedentary, living in tribes and very much in love with their freedom. They took to the Taurus Mountains, and their resistance culminated in frequent uprisings. Three big uprisings took place against the foreign kings in 6, 36 and 52 A.D. The first of these uprisings had wide-reaching dimensions, and the Cappadocian King Archelaos I, also ruling over Korykos and Elaiussa Sebaste, had to ask for help from the Roman army. The Romans intervened with two legions commanded by M. Plautus Silvanus. In the second uprising Archelaos II, son of Archelaos I, had to deal with the rebels. The royal troops, who were not used to fighting in rough terrain, had difficulty against the rebels. Trebellus came to the region with 4,000 soldiers and suppressed the uprising through massacres at the fortresses of Karda and Davar inhabited by the Kietis people. In the third uprising the rebels raided the cities, farmsteads, merchants and ships in western Rough Cilicia and even besieged the city of Anemurium. Furthermore, they even put to rout a Roman cavalry unit led by Curtius Severus. Finally, the Commagenian King Antiochos IV subdued the rebels by killing their leaders.

That the personal efforts of Archelaos I and II to suppress the uprisings were unsuccessful must have attracted the attention of the rebels because it was the Archelaids who tried to establish the imperial policies in the region. In the third uprising of A.D. 52 the rebels focussed on western Rough Cilicia, where Antiochos IV had more of an interest and had founded new cities, so they plundered the cities in the area. Based on this piece of information, it is possible to state that the Archelaids and the territory under their rule were prone to threats from the rebels during first two uprisings of A.D. 6 and 36. Thus, it is highly likely that the Archelaids were under threat of the rebels because they were the representatives and policy implementers of the opposing power. Any attack by the rebels would more likely target Elaiussa Sebaste, the capital of the Archelaids, and Korykos in the near vicinity. Despite the lack of numbers regarding the dimension of the threat, the fact that some Roman legions were called in for help reveals that these were more serious than ordinary bandit gangs. Thus serious measures had to be taken. For this purpose, the Archelaids must have felt a strong need to build some structures for defence and observation purposes. Therefore, the five towers with isodomic masonry located right above Elaiussa Sebaste and Korykos must have been built during the client kingdom of the Archelaids. A similar example can be given from Pisidia, which was ruled by client kings in the early years of Augustus’s reign. The client king in Pisidia was Amyntas, who was based at Kremna against the rebel tribes of Homonodensians. During the reign of Amyntas defence structures at Kremna were strengthened, and new towers were built in isodomic masonry just like those at Korykos and Elaiussa Sebaste.

The construction of isodomic towers is the only evidence that can cast some light onto the stagnation in the construction activities in eastern Rough Cilicia during the Early Roman Imperial Period. The security problems proven to have existed through the presence of isodomic towers in eastern Rough Cilicia suggest that the client kings imposing Roman policies and the local dignitaries probably supporting these policies acted together against the poor common peoples. Therefore, the regional power and the local elite must have been concerned with protecting their estates. It is clear that this concern led to the construction of the isodomic towers. No archaeological evidence has been obtained from the Early Roman Imperial period to indicate construction activities in the cities of eastern Rough Cilicia such as Korykos, Olba and Seleukeia. In addition, construction activities observed at Diokaisareia and Elaiussa Sebaste do not display rich quality. This situation observed in the cities of eastern Rough Cilicia may be linked with the security issues proven to have existed through the presence of isodomic towers. On the contrary, the strong development observed in other regions of the Empire must have been felt in eastern Rough Cilicia as well. For it has to be kept in mind that construction activities represented the stately authority that extended to every corner displaying the opportunities it offered and its power. Nevertheless, that the construction activities intensified in the Flavian period, not in the Early Roman Imperial period, seems to support our hypothesis. Eastern Rough Cilicia witnessed the construction of a road network and bridges during the Flavian period. That its rugged terrain had stayed out of state control posed a problem for imperial authority and civility. With the completion of roads and bridges the infrastructure was expanded, and this led to a boom in the construction of public buildings in the cities of the region. This dynamism took place in the second and early third centuries A.D. No actual uprisings by the mountain peoples, called Isaurians by ancient sources, are known during this period. Architectural remains and blocks with architectural sculpture found in this region attest to dynamic construction activities in the second and third centuries AD in eastern Rough Cilicia. Another significant outcome of the above-mentioned uprisings is the fact that the local peoples of eastern Rough Cilicia became acquainted with the Roman lifestyle and Roman urban texture relatively late, in the second and even third century A.D.

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